Three consumers allege in a proposed class action lawsuit that the city of Chicago’s vehicle impound program unconstitutionally ensnares thousands of residents and visitors, including innocent car owners, each year.
The lawsuit, filed in Illinois circuit court, says the city impounds “tens of thousands” of cars each year and holds the vehicles until owners fork over “a compilation” of fines and fees. Owners of impounded cars, the case states, stare down a “labyrinthine” impound system hampered by myriad procedural flaws. Sometimes caught up in this system, the plaintiffs claim, are innocent vehicle owners, such as those whose cars were used by someone else to commit a crime without their knowledge.
“That is precisely what happened to [the plaintiffs],” the complaint reads, “innocent car owners who were subjected to thousands of dollars in fines and the seizure of their cars for crimes someone else committed without their knowledge.”
In addition to facing a fine for the offense that resulted in the impoundment of their vehicle in the first place, innocent vehicle owners are also saddled with towing fees and accruing storage charges, the case continues. A vehicle cannot be reclaimed until every fine and fee is paid in full, which places a burden on those who cannot pay immediately for the release of their cars, the lawsuit stresses.
According to the lawsuit, two of the plaintiffs, a married couple, took their vehicle to an auto shop for repairs in June 2018. While the vehicle was at the shop, the case says, an employee took the car for a ride without permission and was stopped by police, who discovered the driver had a revoked license. Chicago allegedly required the two plaintiffs to pay $1,170 for the return of their vehicle. When they did not pay quickly enough, the plaintiffs say, the city “disposed of their car.”
The suit’s third named plaintiff claims that after a June 2016 traffic stop for a broken turn signal, his vehicle was impounded when Chicago police found drugs on a passenger in the car. The plaintiff says he was hired to do mechanic work on the passenger’s car, and that he had only offered to take the passenger home because the man’s vehicle was broken. The plaintiff asserts he did not know any drugs were present in his vehicle at the time of the traffic stop. Despite a court order for his vehicle to be returned, Chicago has reportedly still not returned the man’s car, or allowed him to access his tools inside the trunk, unless he pays upward of $17,000.